The Newsroom Episode 9 – The Blackout Part II Mock Debate

When they said 'make him appeal to the blue collars,' wardrobe took it literally.If you’ve forgotten what went on before, here’s my The Blackout Part I: Tragedy Porn review. Otherwise, just remember Mackenzie is having to run stories on Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner, and then the power goes out. Mackenzie starts to fantasize about coming together and doing the broadcast in the park.

Mackenzie: “The grips take apart the anchor desk . . .”
Will: “And carry it down 25 flights?”
[Assumed key grip]: “You bet your ass they do!”

Have you hugged a grip today?

Grips have a pretty specific job, but are generally used for ‘anything too heavy or delicate for a PA.’ That’s standard indie film procedure, though I’m sure it wouldn’t fly in a major newsroom office. Relatedly, Mackenzie’s ‘we are a team, we need to trust each other’ speech was over-the-top and a tad crazy, but it shows how Sorkin is bringing his idea of running a standard TV/movie into the running of a newsroom, because that’s the Rally Cry a good AD would give. Also standard TV/movie procedure: scrambling to make plans on the fly, only to scrap them as you’ve sorted it all out. But, raise your hand if you actually thought there was going to be a News on the Square moment, or the lights weren’t going to come on at the crucial point in Mac’s speech?

The only problem (well, almost only; they could have dialed it back from 11 to 10) I have with this storyline and the Neil Incites the Trolls storyline is: they are couched in reality. I’d have an easier time if the background was a story was fictionalized, even if about a badly moniker’d Chelsea Antoinette and Tony Frankfurter. The suspension of disbelief required for these plots is broken with constant references to real political players.

Exactly how drunk were the lawyers when writing this!?

Of course, changing the storylines to fictional ones wouldn’t allow the show to do what it has been surprisingly adept at the past couple weeks: studying the psychology of not just the newsmakers, but the news watchers, including the The Newsroom viewers. We the viewers are sensationalists. We’re voyeurs. When ratings are driving the coverage, we’re complicit because we drive the ratings.

Thus I’m stuck, as the show is, between wanting/doing a really good show about reality that includes all the points, or a really overblown drama that people will watch and that includes a few of the points. The Newsroom fluctuates wildly between the two, often sacrificing one for the other two or three times per episode, and it brings some of its strongest moments as well as the moments that make the viewers want to find a brick wall to beat their heads against.

A good example of the mix of hyperfiction and reality, the mock debate storyline was a stretch, and an over-harped stretch at that, but the payoff came not just in the debate but the practice sessions leading up to it. Though the payoff makes the narrative stretches excusable, said narrative stretches become tedious. Tedious stretches don’t lend themselves to repeat viewing. It’s a give and take most shows do it to some extent; I’m just not exactly sure how self-aware of this problem the show is. I’m still watching The Newsroom, as is a great percentage of the population, but what is its shelf life? In the end, this sort of show may work best as a quasi-news; a one-and-done that informs us but then sits in the archives.

Because of course the NYPD would let them sit on the curb right in front of the window.The storyline I really bit on also required a stretch in an already-established character having a tie to Casey Anthony. It didn’t pay off well – there’s a place to discuss how pro-life advocates often drop the baby once its born, and in the middle of a news segment with promise of better, not to mention a gaping logical hole that pro-life Will doesn’t walk through, is not that place – but the rest hit close to home, and there’s still room for future payoff.

I’ve discussed how my background in narrative filmmaking informs how I watch the show, but putting Maggie in a position to convince her roommate Lisa to go on News Night when neither Lisa nor Maggie is comfortable with it is eerily reminiscent of aspects of documentary filmmaking I’ve been struggling with the past few months. I’ll turn those into a post in and of themselves, but I appreciate the nod, even if there’s not a whole lot of existential crisis exposition.

With one episode left to go in the season, The Newsroom has almost found its rhythm, and the most difficult part is striking a balance between exposing sensationalism and becoming sensationalistic. Other Things It Finds Difficult: editing the story coherently, writing credible characters, not mocking the entire female population, handling romantic adult relationships, handling platonic adult relationships, reminding us how much times has passed during the series without shoehorning references into the dialogue flow.

I noted this may work better as something to be reminisced about and not re-watched. What do you think?

For the Record

  • Sloane’s lines and attitude don’t always land, but when they do, they land hard. More, please.
  • The decor in the makeup room was fantastic.
  • Either/Or fallacies abound.
  • Don’s “eat me” = perfect, as was Charlie’s backing him up. ‘When Don says ‘eat me,’ that’s usually the end of the conversation.”
  • Economy of character and dialogue meant that bit with the pants and the tailor was going to have to pay off soon, but dear heavens speaking of stretches. Daniels sold it, but the shot of him lying on the floor un-sold it.
4 Responses to “The Newsroom Episode 9 – The Blackout Part II Mock Debate”
  1. holditnow says:

    Another great recap. You have a strong grasp on what makes this show so vexing.
    The grip scene is a good example of the all or nothing scenario this show thrives on. We are asked to believe that every person that works in the ‘Newsroom’ believes so completely that what they are doing is right and essential that they’ll do anything to make it happen. When I watch this show, I feel like Aaron Sorkin is asking the viewer to lug a heavy desk down 25 flights of stairs every episode to buy into a meta-reality drama that preaches integrity all the while pandering to slocky TV rhetoric.

    • Melanie says:

      Thanks for the comment, and the compliment.

      Not for nothing did Will/Sorkin cite Rudy. But you can’t hit those emotional notes every 20 minutes in episodic television. Meta-reality, indeed!

  2. Nicholas says:

    Question for you, since you mentioned it.

    “The only problem (well, almost only; they could have dialed it back from 11 to 10) I have with this storyline and the Neil Incites the Trolls storyline is: they are couched in reality.”

    You mentioned Neil and the Trolls specifically as “couched in reality” – but I’m curious as to what, exactly, that was supposed to be a reference to.

    If it was just a way to talk about how online communities are full of antisocial assholes who do nothing but try to ruin others’ lives, then the “secret society” aspect adds a false intentionality of generic dickishness online; that is, is this random person online doing this because they’re a normal person who’s been granted anonymity and has repugnant true feelings about those around them, or because they’re pledging for a secret society of internet dicks?

    If it’s trying to make a news story out of the existence of websites like 4chan (and similar offshoots) then it’s just a horrid storyline, given the sheer number of inconsistencies that arise from creating a mish-mash of concepts that end with an amalgamation that is even worse than real life. One of the largest factors that is able to give rise to the repulsive culture of those sites is enforced anonymity – not only is your behavior disconnected from any consequences, it’s made practically impossible to establish any sort of consistent identity even across just a single topic posting, combined with a literal expiration date on any and all postings – around 5 minutes without a response or over a certain threshold of responses (I want to say ~100, maybe more), and the entire thread and its contents get removed entirely from the system, with the only “backups” being any screenshots individuals make (which can obviously be easily faked). There are measures to create an identity, but from a practical standpoint, as the culture of the site developed, those who chose to utilize these tools were made into pariahs.

    If it was supposed to be a story related to the LulzSec hacking that happened during that summer/fall, then a few of the details were closer to what the actual storyline said (close-knit circle, needing to prove yourself before being given access), but ignores the reasons those practices came about in the real group’s existence – their activities weren’t “trolling people online” or “inciting arguments”; they were literally breaking the law by gaining unauthorized access to systems owned by others. The use of the information gained in that manner was used for wide-scale trolling, but the focus in the storyline seemed to be far more focused on the outcome than the cause (to the point of making a mockery of their own storyline).

    My guess is that Sorkin learned thirdhand of both the LulzSec hackings and the existence of 4chan around the same time, merged the two in his head into a (somehow) even worse chimera, and then made a ridiculously silly storyline out of it.

    • Melanie says:

      I think you just answered your own question. Twice. Allow me to give you a third answer, which – combined with your first answer – is what I’m getting at.

      The Newsroom reports almost entirely on real events; all the ‘hard news’ events are there in detail, complete with actual names. No L&O ‘ripped from the headlines . . . except with juicier twists and renamed characters’ here. Thus, ‘reality.’

      (Which means if he was trying to fictionalize an actual news story of the LulzSec house, he is undermining his own shows premise, but that’s a problem for another paragraph.)

      The romantic and personal lives of the actual newsroom inhabitants we can understand being fictionalized, of course. But these storylines are 1) news-‘related,’ and 2) absurd. Both those necessarily cause problems within this historically-correct* universe Sorkin has built.

      *the events happened. the news footage clips are archived news reports. the romanticized spin is still spun over facts.

      1) Being news-‘related’ but not actually stating its source is antithetical to the way the entire series works. The wiretapping storyline had to create this faux-James-Bond mystique around it . . . because what, Americans need to see it directly related to US organizations? Doing a retroactive show about real news and throwing in veiled, complex quasi-parallels to the News of the World scandal gives the show an uneven tone and leaves the viewer unbalanced in a bad way. Why do they feel the need to address it, yet deviate from the show’s conceit to do so?

      2) My main point with that phrase ‘couched in reality’ is, these storylines are so utterly absurd that, when cut into scenes of Real Actual News – which, admittedly, is sometimes stranger than fiction – their absurdity stands out even more. Re: Neil and the Trolls: A blogger in the newsroom wants to start a vicious, personal, slanderous online campaign against one of the newsrooms own? Through (as you’ve pointed out) incorrect methods, but more importantly without real approval, oversight, or input? The network would have a field day! His conversations with Sloan get more and more ridiculous. The whole plot leads to him accidentally discovering the source of Will’s death threats, who openly reveals himself to a complete stranger. (The hubris I buy, the coincidence I don’t.) This might work in a truly fictional universe, and we may nod along and say ‘ok I see the point you’re making there, and this would be interesting and even plausible, were the world slightly different.’ But paired with true stories fresh in our memory, we can’t forget that the show is presenting this not as fiction or even a stretch of reality, but as An Actual Thing. And as such, it doesn’t work at all.

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